HUSKER FOOTBALL

SAN ANTONIO -- Many questions remained about the status of Nebraska's football program following Nebraska's 17-3 win over Michigan State at the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29.

But if the Cornhuskers' season finale was any indication, the future of the NU's running game looks to be in good shape with Cory Ross.

Ross, NU's sophomore I-back who had just two career starts before the bowl game, had the best game of his career at the Alamodome, running for 138 yards on a school-record 37 carries.

"He played like the heart of a champion," NU Running Backs Coach Tim Albin said. "I was not worried about his wearing down. That football doesn't weigh much. He could have went 40."

Ross' career game spelled good news for the future of the Huskers, who left the Alamo Bowl not knowing who their head coach or assistant coaches would be for the 2004 season.

"The future looks bright," NU sophomore offensive lineman Richie Incognito said. "We've got a lot of young guys coming back."

With Incognito leading the way, the Huskers return three regular starters on the O-line for 2004. Sophomore guard Brandon Koch, who started two games during the regular season, also returns next season. Gone are tackle Dan Vili Waldrop and center Josh Sewell.

Ross, who spent much of the season behind senior Josh Davis and sophomore David Horne, moved into the starting lineup after he came off the bench to run for 108 yards on 19 rushes -- almost all in the second half -- against Kansas on Nov. 8 in NU's 10th game of the season.

Before that KU game, Ross had totaled 36 carries for 139 yards -- a total he almost equaled in the bowl game alone.

Although Ross finished third on the Huskers in rushing with 575 yards -- behind Davis and quarterback Jammal Lord -- the sophomore from Denver easily outran NU's other backs in the final four games of the season.

Ross was quick to credit his blockers for his performance against the Spartans.

"Our offensive line was great," Ross said. "I had ways to pick and choose which way I wanted to go. That's what football is all about.

"What I do is what (the offensive linemen) do and what they do is what I do."

In the regular season, Ross' high in carries came at Colorado on Nov. 29 when he had 22 rushing attempts. Ross passed that total in the first three quarters as he had 26 carries for 99 yards.

In the first half alone, Ross finished with 69 yards on 15 carries. Ross also scored two touchdowns -- a career high for him. Ross had just two rushing touchdowns in the regular season and finished 2002 with two scores.

Despite going into the fourth quarter already having 26 carries, Ross said he wasn't the least bit tired.

"I started getting that second or third gas," Ross said. "You've got to suck it up and keep playing."

Ross, who was the only I-back to see a snap in the game, seemed to get stronger as his carries piled up. During one stretch in the fourth quarter, Ross had seven straight carries.

Despite gaining 138 yards, Ross didn't have a carry for more than 12 yards. But he consistently found holes for 3 to 6 yards.

"You don't have that kind of night unless you have great blocking up front," Albin said. "You got to give credit to the offensive line and fullbacks."